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First Sight: Skoda Octavia

Fri, 14 Dec 2012

The new Skoda Octavia was unveiled earlier this week in the Czech brand's museum at its home in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic. Car Design News was in attendance to check out the third generation of what the company calls ‘the heart of Skoda'.

The new Octavia is the fourth model in the Volkswagen Group to be built on the new MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten) platform. It's a designer's favorite thanks to its easily altered proportions – the new VW Golf, Seat Leon and Audi A3 are proof of its sound foundations.

Octavia v3.0 isn't a car that smacks you around the face with new and exciting styling yet, as with the three aforementioned cars, familiar themes are refined and applied to a car of excellent proportions. The Octavia has a great stance – foursquare where the last one teetered – and its aesthetic is effortlessly understated.

"You really need to see it next to the previous Octavia or outside next to other cars to really appreciate the proportions," Jozef Kaban, Skoda design director tells CDN. "It looks very strong and elegant without being fashionable."

Not that it's unfashionable; more that it's neither faddish nor likely to date quickly. Its lamps are the most explicit external expression of the technology content within with optional LED DRL light pipes and rear C-shaped graphics. The front units feature a series of illuminated longitudinal lines that continue the vanes of the grille, broadening the car visually. "They are like eyelashes," explains Kaban. "We don't need to show that we have the best technology, we want to move closer to the human. Remember the Miura? I wanted a car that has a little something like that."

There's another Miura reference in the surface that creates a flick at the end of the DLO graphic, suggesting frameless windows (although sadly not delivering on the promise). But let's not get too carried away, this isn't some Gandini daydream turned reality and nor is it intended to be. But there is character here beyond the understatement.

Clearly its main focus is on providing spacious, practical and hardy family transport and the Octavia is better equipped in this regard than anything else in the C-segment. The major part of this advantage comes from the fact it's closer to the D-segment in size at 4,659mm long – 90mm longer than the car it replaces, with a 108mm increase in wheelbase. The result is a car that has a truly spacious interior (at 1,782mm the longest cabin in its class), particularly in the rear, which is vital to this car's success in China. Its luggage area at 590 liters is, you guessed it, the biggest in class.

That capacious boot is again accessed by a tailgate despite the three-box proportions, which reveals a series of handy stowage nets, hooks and the sort of things that mark Skoda out as a brand that offers products that ‘just work' in day-to-day life.

Its interior has taken a notable step up in terms of quality to such an extent that it's now arguably a nicer place to sit than the Volkswagen Golf. This may cause headaches within the VW Group but it's a win-win situation for customers.

Another advantage of the MQB platform share is the excellent new infotainment system, complete with the 8-inch touchscreen we've already tried out in the new Golf. If anything it's better here thanks to slightly higher positioning on the center stack.

It's hard to look around the Octavia without picking up on design references from previous Audis, something we posed to Kaban: "We weren't trying to make it look like an Audi – we want to do it our way – but if there's a shade of that from certain angles then I won't see that as a criticism."

Whether the Audi cribs are intentional or not there's a growing sense that, as long as you're not totally obsessed with the badge on the center of your steering wheel (and Skoda's brand equity has never been higher), this may well be the shrewdest product in the whole group.

Related articles:
Driven: Volkswagen Golf Mk7
First details of 2013 Skoda Octavia emerge

By Owen Ready